Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Collegiate Nationals 2011

More to come!

Sam Nicaise

Wow, this was my first triathlon ever! And, boy, was it a blast. I’d like to throw out some mad props to the other first-timers, Becca and Diana, for running awesome races! I never thought that racing could be so fun, damn challenging, invigorating, and motivating.

Getting to Alabama on Thursday before the race was well worth it. It gave us time to get to know the area, see the course, and settle in to the hotel. Sticking my head in the river water at 60F for the first time was a shocker! But it helped get me accustom to the temperature that was to come. Some of us did an easy ride of the bike course, and instilled false confidence that the “few hills” would provide for a fast and doable course. Little did we know! I think the best part of Thursday was sleeping for almost a full 12 hours. I always underestimate my ability to sleep, and that night was surely an example of what compounded sleeplessness can lead to. The rest was needed, and I found the value in getting that “second day before” sleep. My energy levels were super high the next couple days.

Friday was another good day. We woke-up mid-morning, and headed down to the river for our first swim (with wetsuits of course!). The water was clocking in at 59.7F, and sure felt like and ice bath. After realizing that your hands and feet were inevitably going to go numb, it didn’t seem so bad. A couple hundred meters later, I was ready to mount up. Another smooth bike ride on the route, plus the heat of the day, added up for a smelly bunch of triathletes. Us, and the rest of the students from around the country. Seeing all of the other teams was a very exciting part of registration and the Expo. The afternoon concluded with some hardcore bike maintenance (I successfully adjusted my gears for the first time in my life) and continuous eating. Lastly, we headed over the pretty (GREEN!) large campus of U of Alabama for grubbing in their dining hall. 3 heaping plates of salad, garlic bread, green beans and pasta later, and my carb load was complete. Sleep was nigh with a food coma to the max.

I don’t know how to start. I guess from the beginning makes sense, even though I want to start at the end. We woke up super early, though got to the parking slightly after we wanted (about 2 hours before my wave went). I thought that this would be plenty of time, but after waiting in bathroom lines (major orchestration fail), transition check-in lines (another fail), and warming up in the river (a great idea on my part), I only had 20 minutes before my start. I watched the first 5 waves start, then jumped in the water with the rest of the wave 6 people, including Eric. At this point, the 3 times in the water were paying off.

SWIM: (27.39 including run to T2 for 1500m)
My first mass-start swim went better than I expected, though it still seemed like bedlam. The thrashing continued for the first ~300m, before I was finally able to get into my stroke. It was then that I remembered I needed to ‘sight’. I looked up to see that I was veering way off-course…first of a few of these mistakes. After rounding the first or second turn (about 600m), my confidence started to pick up as I saw blue swim caps of people from wave 5. Though the water was cold, it wasn’t phasing me too much, except for the often gulp of river water. The long far-side stretch continued to get better and better. As soon as I was clear of people in front of me (about 500m left), I was able to concentrate on a very efficient stroke. I made it through the last turn, and powered into the shore-finish. The swim-T1 transition was one of the hardest parts of the whole race! Between the very muddy shore, and cold-to-hot difference, I felt light headed, even though my legs were dead. It was a few hundred meters run to the T1 area, during which I stumbled a little, dropped my swim cap, though I lost my goggles, and evidently completely didn’t hear the MIT girls cheering for me. In the end though, I think I was able to get my head on my shoulders and power through.

T1: (1:21)
Better than I expected! I got my wetsuit off with little problem, helmet on, and was off to mounting. Then I remembered that tired legs = can’t clip in. After about 5 tries to get on my pedals (a significant embarrassment), I finally heard the satisfying “click” to the cheers of “MIT”.

BIKE: (1:21:47 for 40k, 18.2mph)
Though I felt great about the bike, it was obviously my weakest sport. The “slightly hilly” course seemed way hillier once you are tired, and have been racing for over 1 hour. I stuck with my plan and shot for an 18mph average. To get there, I powered up a lot of hills, and played it conservative on the down hills and flats. I still don’t know how to work my biking strategy, but I don’t think I have either – power or endurance – legs just yet. We’ll see how that unfolds. Also, this was my first ride with sunglasses, and they really helped with the sun and wind. My energy level was high, breathing low, but after the first lap (of 2 total), my legs were starting to feel the fatigue. I mentally and energetically felt strong, but my pace dropped quite a bit on the second lap. Nonetheless, I kept pushing. The wind wasn’t bad (way less than Boston). I also experienced my hands going numb, something that hasn’t happened to me in a long time: more core, get aero bars, and remember that standing is a good recovery. I later found out that I had put my handle bars on wrong: over 1cm too far to the right...woops! I drank both of my accelerade bottles, which kept my energy high, though I think the liquid was more than I was used to. After pushing really hard on the last 2 miles of the bike, my stomach started to cramp up. Old haunts came back to bite me. In the end though, I averaged over 18mph, and met my goal!

T2: (0:58)
I was able to get my feet out of my cycling shoes and on top of the pedals before T2! As I dismounted, I started to feel the cramp in my stomach acting up :( I ran into T2, threw on my shoes (thanks lock laces), and was out in a great time.

RUN: (45:15 for 10k at 7:18 min/m)
My stomach was still aching out of T2. My legs were dead tired at this point, energy was mediocre, and the sun was getting high! Lucky for me, the first part of the run was uphill. Being from Northern Kentucky, running hills is what I live for, and as others walked arduously to the top, I was able to fly by them. I had one person pass me at the beginning of the run, but that was the last person the whole rest of the race (though I had probably set myself back pretty far after a slow bike). I chomped a few energy chews to give me a burst, and came through mile 1. At this point, I realized that I wasn’t going to make my “I would be ecstatic if I got a time of” 2:30, but set a new goal of 2:37, under my desired 2:40. With my cramps still going strong, I grabbed water at each station and threw it over my head to cool off (instead of adding to the pain with a sloshy stomach). I had forgotten what it meant to run in super humid heat since leaving Kentucky. After the downhill between mile 2 and 3, the long straight stretch started. I had passed Antoine and pushed him along, hoping that the heat wasn’t killing him too much. Though my stomach was setting a limit on my pace, I felt strong, and wasn’t waning. No negative splits, but surely even. The run got harder and harder, but I continued to pass people, either overtaking them, or shouting out encouragement for them to beat their injury/heat. Miles 3-5 were the hardest, in the sun, with few water stations, and not knowing where the turnaround would be. The best part, was high-fiving Senovio and Scott as we crossed paths. That boost kept me pushing. When I finally got to the water station near mile 5, I downed some Gatorade, knowing it would kill my stomach, but my body needed some liquid. At this point, I mentally found a second gear, even if I wasn’t racing any faster. When I finally saw the mile 6 marker, I turned it up a notch, as I approached the crowds. “Unfortunately,” I turned up the heat and sprinted through the finish line! My first race was complete! I obviously had more energy left, but my next couple steps were quite wobbly :P Nothing a gallon of Gatorade and water couldn’t solve. Best part: I was just over my goal of 2:37 after keeping a consistent strong run pace!

I couldn’t be happier for finally completing a goal I had set for myself back in October. Not only did I train my butt off, but I made my first triathlon an Olympic, not even a Sprint. It was awesome to be able to do it with friends, compete against/with so many amazing athletes, and realize that possibilities really are endless. Thoughts after crossing the finish line: 1) Can I stand? 2) Yes, mostly. 3) This Gatorade tastes more delicious thant 25-year old bourbon! 4) When do I get to start training again? 5) Can I start training now? 6) I don’t get to race again till June? Damn! 7) Oh well, maybe I’ll do a 70.3 …So yah, triathlon is definitively addictive.

-Coach Bill is the freaking man! I could only fumble through the water when I started going to his beginner lessons in January (1000m was the furthest I had swam in years!). After the lessons, and a few months of practicing what he said, my TriNats swim rank was almost better than my run rank! If I get in some good OWS this summer, I think it may become my best sport, which seems crazy, but exciting.
- All of my running practice has paid off. I couldn’t have ever imagined how hard running of the bike is, which is why everyone emphasizes bricks (and high intensity bricks too). Granted, I have a running background, but I have gotten way better since going to track workouts (thanks Andrea) and working with Coach AJ. It was evident when I was passing dozens of people on the run, didn’t bonk, and kept a consistent pace. Now, I just have to learn how to run while fatigued, and with a full stomach of water/chews.
- Tri can seem like it would be a very individual sport, but the team aspect is incredibly important. It was amazing to make new friends / strengthen friendships. Thanks to the whole MIT TriNats team for making it an awesome trip. There will be plenty of group training to come. We need to keep pushing.
- If I am ever tempted to spend money on tri gear in the next half-year, I will remember that there is no more effective or efficient way to get faster than training. Money spent on gear is only well spent if it helps you train better. Granted, I am not shaving seconds, but I think this was a very important concept to learn, especially when I was passing the guys on cervelos.
- Every couple weeks, do a “race scenario” training (or simply a race), in order to get your body used to the fatigue, transitions, and water/energy supplements.
- Triathlon is freaking hard. Everyone who completes one is a sweet athlete, and deserves congratulation. It takes physical strength, physical endurance, mental toughness, self-control, dedication, and incredible long-term and short-term drive.
- When to do I get to start training again? Why is the next race not till June? Oh, well, more motivation to qualify for TriNats next year and return to Tuscaloosa.

Shaena Berlin

Warning: I usually love writing race reports, but have had a lot of schoolwork to do so put off writing the most recent ones for such a long time that this might be annoyingly short or boring.

Travel: 13 athletes from MIT (5 women, 8 men) flew out to Birmingham then drove to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for collegiate triathlon nationals. The flights were uneventful, but the dramatic change in landscape and climate totally shocked me; we came from cold, rainy Boston to almost tropical-feeling, green Alabama.

Swim: 28:35
The water temperature felt fairly cold (~62 degrees), but not altogether unpleasant because the air was so balmy. For this race, the men all started around 7am, then the women did not start until 10:00; this altogether made the races for men and women quite different, as we had to deal with horrible heat and humidity by the end, and they didn’t. Anyway, I started in the first wave, with all of the elite/semi-pro triathletes along with all the other women who just happened to be seeded first for some reason; the swim was ok, though I didn’t really go as hard as I would have in a pool because everything was so chaotic. The crazy part of the swim (and the reason for the super-slow time) is that the run into the transition area was at least 2 minutes/.25 miles, which was quite long.

The bike course and race was great, super fun. It was mostly flat or rolling hills, without very much wind. It’s always really exciting to pass women on super-expensive bikes with aero-everything, who should probably just spend some more time training…On that note, I got to watch the men’s bike start because our race hadn’t started yet, and it was AMAZING how many of the top men fell off or totally messed up their bike mounts; sometimes, simple methods (i.e. putting on shoes in transition zone) are more efficient! The course consisted of two laps, so it was fun to see other MIT women going the opposite direction and cheer for them.

Run: 52:21
The run was not fun (it rarely is, but this was particularly not fun), due to the heat and humidity; it reached the high 80’s during our race, and there were literally girls who just sat down in the middle of the road and couldn’t move, and people who were carried in on stretchers and dunked in ice baths. So, compared to them, all of us MIT women survived fairly well; I felt like I was sprinting and was shivering pretty badly on the final mile (which was around a 9:00 pace, yikes), but ended up running a 53, which is far from the worst I’ve ever done. Anyway, it was a great relief to finish and walk around with big bags of ice for the next few hours (and sunburn for the next few days).

Overall: 2:39:45
Overall, it was quite fun, and we had a great time. I placed fine, not a lot better than last year but at least slightly so. This summer, my goal is to get better at running in the heat.